TEACHER OR IMPUDENT? YOU DECIDE.
Scott Pruett heads into next week's Rolex Series race at Virginia International Raceway holding a scant one-point lead in the 2007 Rolex Series Daytona Prototype driving championship.
On the receiving end in early March of an untimely lesson delivered by a teammate and saddled with his third full-series co-driver in four seasons (he's had three co-drivers this year, alone, if one also counts the Rolex 24 At Daytona), a casual observer might get the impression Pruett is an intolerable and difficult sort.
Well, that's not the case. It just goes to show how one can weave factual information into a false reality.
"The last couple of seasons my job's been a big challenge, for sure," Pruett said. "But I've learned a lot by figuring out how to convey my knowledge to some of the younger guys I've worked with. It's not to say that they didn't already have excellent skills, though. It's just I've been charged with the responsibility of refining those abilities a little.
"I've really enjoyed doing it because in the process I also learn. Besides, at the same time I've also gotten to learn from some of the world's best drivers, too, who've brought in different ways of looking at things. This has been a fun deal."
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates joined the Rolex Series in 2004 and has since had four different drivers and three different driving combinations alone in its flagship No. 01 Telmex Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype - all centered around key-man Pruett.
Max Papis and Pruett shared the driver's seat that first year and by season's end the rookie team had claimed the DP driving championship - just 10 points ahead of second-place Wayne Taylor and his No. 10 SunTrust car (then menacingly black; now just a handsome blue).
Papis took flight shortly afterward leaving Pruett to team in 2005 and 2006 with Luis Diaz, the two bringing home second-place championship finishes at the end of each season.
In 2007 and alternating in the seat with newest co-driver Memo Rojas, Pruett heads into the April 26 Virginia International Raceway series stop with his threadbare lead over the second-place No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac-Riley team of Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen -- which Taylor owns and now solely directs.
It's at this point that one can easily picture Pruett gritting his teeth and snarling something about others getting the championship from him only should they pry it from his clenched fingers.
"Well, I do like to win," the 46-old ageless driver said when once asked why he always pushes toward a race's front, regardless of series.
It was Pruett's give-it-all desire to win that in Mexico City would bring out some venomous words directed at fellow CGR/FS NASCAR Busch Series teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, with whom Pruett ironically would earlier this year win the Rolex 24, along with future big-time star Salvador Duran.
"If you're truly passionate about anything you do, then you wear your heart on your sleeve," Pruett said recently. "So with that, when things happen -- good or bad -- there's this high level of emotion for everybody.
"When Mexico City came down to that at the end, well, there was just anger," Pruett laughingly said while recalling his being on the losing end of a gripping duel with Montoya during the Telcel Motorola 200 at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
"That thing was behind us by the next corner," car owner Chip Ganassi said while at the Rolex Series' last stop at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"Juan went into that turn thinking Pruett saw him. When he realized he wasn't and rather than hit door-to-door he backed off. Juan just wasn't able to back off fast enough in the time it took Scott to turn in.
"He didn't want to hit him. He's the last person Juan wanted to do that to.
"And do you know why I know that's behind Scott, too," Ganassi asked rhetorically, "'Cause Scott's the perfect driver on the track; off the track. You can count on him and don't have to be watching over him all the time. He knows what to do; when to do it."
Willingly marching to the beat of a different drummer when away from the race track, Pruett has been known to reflect on life while toiling the soil and plants found in the quiet serenity of his California vineyard ranch.
With retrospection willingly gained there, Pruett now celebrates what the victory meant to Montoya and the NASCAR operations of Ganassi and Sabates.
"That win was huge, just huge for that team and the NASCAR part of Ganassi Racing," Pruett said.
"Sure, I would've loved to have won that race -- even come in with a one-two like I feel we could've -- but I can't overstate how happy I am for them to get that win under their belt, not just for Juan Pablo but for the whole NASCAR side."
Mexico City wasn't the first time Pruett has been disappointed or, for that matter, acted as the spoiler.
For Pruett, last year's VIR 400 would give him a little taste of both when for much of the race's last 20 laps his CompUSA Lexus mercilessly pressed Angelelli's first-place-running SunTrust Pontiac.
With the last-lap's white flag well behind them on the course's 17-turn, 3.27-mile length, at the 14th turn Pruett pounced on the chance to go door-handle to door-handle with Angelelli.
Rubbing bodies and tires through the turn, both drivers would display an uncharacteristic case of tunnel vision that allowed an unscathed, unchallenged Mike Rockenfeller and his No. 23 Ruby Tuesday to snooker the two, bolting to a win moments later with a 0.518-second margin of victory over Angelelli.
Pruett, in third and apologizing to his team, came under the checkered flag all of 0.795-seconds behind the victor in one of the closest DP races ever -- something VIR seems to annually bring out among the DP racers.
"If you like racing then you would have loved to watch this one, I can tell you," Pruett said after the race. "It just doesn't get any better than the way the top-three finished.
"The first three cars were (slugging) it out for at least the last 20 laps. This kind of finish just shows that it's not over until the fat lady sings."
"Lap after lap I was looking for every possible way to get around Max," Pruett said later as he recounted the race's last laps. "I didn't want to punt him, and could've, but waited for the chance to get alongside of him. When it came I jumped on it and just about forgot about everyone else.
"It hurt but I learned from it."
"That's one of the cool things about life: you never really ever stop learning if you just look for the lessons it gives us -- even when you sometimes wished they would've come some other time."
Going into next weekend's race it's probably safe to say that while Pruett will hardly reject another VIR lesson, it's far more likely he'd much rather be just the teacher this go 'round.
- DC Williams exclusively for motorsport.com